Monday, December 7, 2009

Georges SEURAT

This sketch is one of twelve small studies in oil panel (Seurat called them croquetons - little sketches) painted at Grandcamp on the Normandy coast in the summer of 1885. They are Seurat's first marine landscapes. Of this group of sketches, two served as a basis for large canvases. The National Gallery of Australia's sketch provided the basis for Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp 1885, now in the Tate Gallery, London.

The composition of the croqueton, painted on the spot, differs in some respects from the finished painting, which was almost certainly worked up in the studio after Seurat's return to Paris. The study shows the rocky shoreline at the base of the cliff, whereas in the final painting this is excluded (as if the tide had come in), allowing the direct juxtaposition of the promontory, a swooping arc against the unrelieved horizontal of a calm sea. The expressive qualities of the composition are drawn out in the final painting: a flock of birds appears above the point of the promontory, a lone white sail can be seen on the horizon. 'From the precipitous coast of Grandcamp', wrote the critic Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) of the painting in 1888, 'the little promontory of Bec du Hoc soars over the quiet, melancholy sea'.

The idea of painting the promontory from above may have been suggested to Seurat by the vertiginous cliff paintings that Claude Monet executed on the Normandy coast a few years earlier (at Fécamp in 1881 and at Varengeville, Pourville and Dieppe in 1882) and which were exhibited in Paris in 1882 and 1883. It has also been suggested that the simplified silhouette of Le Bec du Hoc may have been inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, specifically the towering wave in Katsushika Hokusai's The great wave of Kanagawa from Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji of about 1825.

adapted from Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery, 1992, pp.64-67 by Christine Dixon

1. 'De l'abrupt littoral de Grandcamp … le petit promontoire du Bec du Hoc se hausse hargneusement sur la mer calme et triste' (Félix Fénéon: 'A La Revue Indépendante: La Revue Indépendante March 1888', in Félix Fénéon, Oeuvres plus que complètes, 2 vols, Geneva, 1970, vol. 1, p.98).
2. Henri Dorra and Sheila C. Astin, 'Seurat's Japonisme', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol.73 no.1201, February 1969, pp.81-94, cf. p.85. This argument is developed further by Françoise Cachin, 'Les Neo-Impressionistes et le Japonisme, 1885-1893', in Japonisme in Art: An International Symposium, ed. Society for the Study of Japonisme, Tokyo: Kodansha International 1980, pp.225-238.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dunedin Public - Art Gallery

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery holds the main public art collection of the city of Dunedin, New Zealand. Located in The Octagon in the heart of the city, it is close to the city's public library, municipal chambers, and other facilities such as the Regent Theatre.

The gallery was founded by W.M. Hodgkins in 1884 and was the first public art gallery in New Zealand. It originally occupied what is now the maritime gallery in the Otago Museum, was located in the Municipal Chambers in the Octagon from 1888-1890, and then in an annexe to the Otago Museum now the site of the Fels Wing. It moved to a new purpose-designed building in Queen's Gardens in 1907, to which a structure housing the Otago Settlers Museum was added the following year, the whole designed by John Burnside. In 1927 it was moved to a building constructed for the 1925-6 New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition in Logan Park, Dunedin North designed by Edmund Anscombe. The building was bought and donated to the city by Sir Percy and Lady Sargood, as a memorial to their son who was killed at Gallipoli.[1] The gallery was relocated to its present site, the refitted D.I.C. building, in 1996.

In its long existence it has played host to numerous overseas shows, including Masterpieces of the Guggenheim a 1990s exhibition of modern art, and the touring Tate Gallery exhibition The Pre-Raphaelite Dream, more recently.

The gallery has a strong collection of old, modern and contemporary works, by New Zealand and overseas artists. It has one of the most numerous collections of works by Frances Hodgkins, who was born in the city. It has the most extensive collection of old master paintings in New Zealand and the most significant holdings of paintings by post 1800 overseas artists too. The holdings include works by Jacopo del Casentino (also known as Landini), Zanobi Machiavelli, Benvenuto Tisi (called Garofalo), Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, Carlo Maratta, Luca Giordano, Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorraine, Hans Rottenhammer, Pieter de Grebber, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger etc.

The gallery's holdings of British watercolours, the gift of F.H.D. Smythe, contains over 1300 works and is outstanding in New Zealand. It has significant holdings of overseas old master and modern prints and drawings, including a notable group of Japanese woodblock prints. Its New Zealand holdings are distinguished by such works as George O'Brien's 'Lawyer's Head from Forbury Head, Sunrise', Petrus Van der Velden's 'A Waterfall in the Otira Gorge', G.P. Nerli's 'Portrait of a Girl', C.F. Goldie's 'All 'e Same t'e Pakeha', Alfred Henry O'Keeffe's 'The Defense Minister's Telegram' Rita Angus's 1937 'Self Portrait', Colin McCahon's 'The 5 Wounds of Christ' and Ralph Hotere's 'Rosemary'.

Unlike New Zealand's other major public galleries the Dunedin Public Art Gallery branched out into the decorative arts in the 1920s, developing on the model of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, or the American 'Art Museums'. It thus has extensive and, in New Zealand, unparalleled, holdings of ceramics, glassware, metalwork, furniture and textiles, mostly of overseas origin

Thursday, November 26, 2009

John Ernest Aitken


John Ernest Aitken was the son of James Aitken, a Scottish-born maritime artist. He studied at the Manchester, Liverpool and Wallasey Schools of Art and was also taught by his father with whom he shared a studio in Liverpool. Aitken and his father permanently moved to the Isle of Man in 1911, although they had visited the Island from 1894. A few months after moving to Port St Mary, Aitken built an artist’s studio at the rear of Lime Street.

He was a prolific and commercially successful artist with some of his paintings being reproduced as calendars and prints. The most popular of these was The Herring Boats, Port St Mary, produced by Bregazzi’s, the Douglas firm of picture framers. In his obituary Aitken was described as:

A man of the highest integrity of a retiring and kindly disposition, Mr Aitken’s whole life was dedicated to his art.


Like his father Aitken specialised in maritime art from seascapes and coastal views to working harbour scenes. His first exhibited work, The Grey North Sea was shown in 1907 at the Walker Art Gallery. Throughout his fifty year artistic career he continued to paint Manx, Dutch and Scottish fishing ports and harbours.

The extent of his commercial success can be measured by the existence of three sketchbooks dating from 1908 to 1957, which contain the details and thumbnail sketches of almost 2,400 paintings. These acted as stock books for Aitken, allowing him to keep track of his paintings whilst they were being framed, exhibited and hopefully sold. They also enabled him to gauge how commercially successful a particular view or scene was by how quickly it sold. As a result certain scenes may appear only once or twice whilst others, such as Manx coastal scenes and Dutch towns, might be frequently repeated.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Master Painter in the age of Rembrandt

Gerrit Dou, The Hermit,1670
34 paintings by 17th-century Dutch artist Gerrit Dou, Rembrandt's first pupil, were brought together for the exhibition. Paintings from all periods of the artist's career were presented, including scenes of daily life, portraits, still lifes, and religious images. The show was the first international exhibition dedicated to Dou's work.

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, in association with the Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague. Ronni Baer, the Mrs. Russell W. Baker Curator of European Painting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art, were the curators. The exhibition was made possible by Shell Oil Company Foundation on behalf of the employees of Shell Oil Company. The exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maryport Maritime Museum

The Museum houses a wealth of objects, pictures, models and paintings that illustrate Maryport's proud maritime and painting tradition. The collection at the Museum was initially based on the donations of items by local resident Miss Annie Robinson, and consisted almost entirely of artefacts from or linked to the Town of Maryport. Miss Robinson was instrumental in setting up the Museum in 1974. The collection has grown in all areas since then. During the refurbishment of the Museum in the 1990's several items were obtained on long-term loan to be used in the displays.

Occupying three floors, the museum houses a diverse and fascinating collection of artefacts. The majority of exhibits hold a unique association with Maryport's maritime, industrial, social and political history, having been donated by townspeople and those connected with the port. Two of the most interesting artefacts in the museum are this painting by William Mitchell and the scrimshaw whales tooth.

"A Breezy Day' by William Mitchell, 1863. A ship rounding the outer wooden pier at South Harbour, Maryport"

"Sperm whale tooth etched with a picture of the whaler 'Eagle'. Carving of bone and ivory, known as "scrimshaw" work, was an art mainly from the Anglo-American whaling ships in the first half of the nineteenth century."

There are also displays about Fletcher Christian of the mutiny on the Bounty and Thomas Ismay, owner of the Titanic.

Maryport Festivals Ltd

The Maritime Museum is home of the Maryport Festivals Ltd (MFL) office, a local non-profit making organisation dedicated to the organisation and promotion of festivals in Maryport for the economic, social and cultural benefit of the town. MFL deliver an annual festival programme including Maryport Bitter and Blues, Sea Maryport and Maryport Christmas Festivals.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ellis Luciano Silas

Ellis Luciano SilasEllis Luciano Silas, artist, was born in London on 13 July 1885. His father was an artist and designer and his mother an opera singer. He was educated by private tutors before working in his father’s studio, where he studied under the well-known artist Walter Sickert. Marine art became his main interest and he painted in English coastal towns. In 1907, he sailed to Australia where he spent time painting in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide before he settled in Perth.

On 16 October 1914, Silas that joined the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) as a signaller with the 16th Battalion. He had served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) for three years and had a strong sense of patriotism, but was doubtful about his ability to be a successful soldier and would have preferred a position as a medical orderly. On 18 November, he embarked with the battalion on the Dimboola, for Melbourne. The ship stopped at Adelaide and the men were given four hours leave. It gave Silas just enough time to:

Dash off to the Art Gallery to see one of my favourite paintings, “Circe invidiosa” by Waterhouse - colour glorious and general treatment most decorative.

The Dimboola went on to Melbourne, where the men disembarked and started training at Broadmeadows camp.

On 22 December 1914, Silas sailed with his battalion on the Ceramic for Egypt, where he trained at Heliopolis, near Cairo. He found army life distasteful, but persevered with signalling, and when possible, continued his sketching and painting.

At about 6 pm on 25 April 1915, Silas went ashore at Gallipoli with the 16th Battalion. The battalion was sent immediately to Pope’s Hill at the head of Monash Valley, where they spent the night digging in under intense rifle fire. Silas later recorded his first experiences in his painting, The End of the Great Day: The 16th Battalion, AIF digging the original trenches on Pope’s Hill on the evening of the landing at Anzac, 25 April 1915 - By an eyewitness (Signaller Ellis Silas, 16th Battalion AIF).

For the next five days, the 16th held Pope’s Hill against the Turks. As Silas recorded in his drawings of that period:

The repetition of shrapnel in each sketch is not a fad of mine, but just the natural order of things: they became as much part of the landscape as the clouds.

Constant exposure to heavy fire during his time at Gallipoli caused Silas to suffer from neurasthenia, otherwise known as shell-shock. On 17 May, he was put aboard the hospital ship Galeka and eventually admitted to No 1 AGH (Australian General Hospital) in Egypt with neurasthenia and enteric fever. Silas was sent to convalesce in England and was discharged from the AIF as medically unfit on 17 August 1916. Silas’ experience of Gallipoli, recorded in his diary and sketchbook, were published in 1916 as Crusading at Anzac, AD 1915. In his foreword, he wrote:

In this work I have not touched upon the big historical facts, but have endeavoured to portray War as the soldier sees it, shorn of all its pomp and circumstance; the War that means cold and hunger, heat and thirst, the ravages of fever; the War that brings a hail of lead that tears the flesh and rends the limb, and makes of men, heroes.

While waiting in London for a passage back to Australia, Silas painted works depicting war at Gallipoli. Three of these were bought for the Australian War Memorial collection, including his piece Roll Call. Silas was one of very few artists who recorded in sketches and paintings his own first-hand experiences of the Australian participation at Gallipoli.

Silas executed this painting in London in about 1920 on commission for the Australian War Records SectionIn 1921, Silas returned to Australia and lived in Sydney where he worked as a commercial artist and contributed cartoons and articles to the Bulletin. In 1922, he went to the Trobriand Islands, New Guinea, to paint, and in 1925 returned to England to work as a marine artist. His painting ‘The Price of Glory’, begun in Perth and depicting the First Dutch War, caused a minor sensation at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1934. It now hangs in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in England. He also designed posters, illustrated books and painted commissioned works to hang on ocean liners.

Silas married Ethel Florence Detheridge in London in 1927, and she survived him when he died in London on 2 May 1972.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eduards Kalnins

The contemporaries of Eduards Kalnins (1904 -1988) gave his art the stamp of "classic" while he was still alive. The "Kalnins legend" is a combination of many notions – talented landscapist, pupil of Vilhelms Purvītis, the first winner of the Latvian Academy of Art Rome Prize, grand master of marine painting, consistent advocate of the principles of plein air and tonal painting, long standing teacher at the Academy of Art, a professional who demanded much of himself and others, influential figure in art circles, a sovreign, lively and wise personality. The hazy grey Baltic Sea marine paintings and the celebrated figural works "Raftsmen", "The New Sails" and "Latvian Fishermen in the Atlantic" have become the centenarian’s unmistakable signs of recognition.

The literary portrait of the artist by Jānis Melbarzdis in his book "Ciesi pie veja"1 (Close to the Wind) brings alive the legend of the old master, just like the racily related episodes of "individual mythology" – the bohemian escapades and the exciting sporting and travel stories. Despite the large amount of 20th century publications on the artist, there has yet to be a serious work of research on the phenomenon of Kalnins’s art and his generation’s relationship with the complicated times.

Behind the openly visible facade of official publicity and the well-known frame of biographical facts, the artist had his personal "territory" dominated by two passions – painting and the sea. With the former he carried on a constant dialogue throughout his long creative career circling around the changes in his individual style, setting himself difficult professional tasks, observing the set rituals of his craft, enjoying and living the painting process itself as well as the concentration required for plein air studies or the long hours of loneliness in the studio. In an interview Kalnins once concluded: "And what is painting itself? It’s probably a kind of meditation when a person frees himself from all that is superfluous and remains alone with his thoughts and feelings."2 His other fateful passion, the sea, gradually became the basic subject matter of the artist’s work.

Certain character traits have united at the core of Kalnins’s artistic individuality: the features of a realist and a romantic, emotional and rational origins, respect for the traditions of the national school and openness to innovation, the ability and will to change flexibly in following the demands dictated by his inner self or by the age. His views on painting honed by long experience and observations of nature help us to understand his feeling for art and his working methods. The dream of his youth, to become a virtuoso painter, was, over time, substituted by a consciously formulated desire to free himself from his acquired dexterity in the frozen-in-time manner.

In his work Kalnins progressed from the intuitive capture of the visible world to self-defined more complicated professional aims. He strove to achieve absolute spatial illusion in the plane of the canvas and to depict the visually imperceptible – the impression of silence and the presence of the infinite in the everyday. His most outstanding successes combine a trained eye and a deft hand – an amazingly precise tonal and sophisticated perception of colour; his perfected brushwork recreates an observation of nature that can be felt in the mood and he fascinates with his ability to transform thematic realities into the appearance of a painting.